I enjoy taking pictures. I enjoy it so much that I have surrounded myself with a heaping pile of obsolete cameras and camera equipment. I would never be so naive as to call myself a photographer, that’s for people who are trained and are good at making pretty pictures that people want to look at. That’s not really my thing. Now I will explain to you the first part of my method and philosophy for taking pictures of people, or as real photographers call it, portrait photography.
This first part is all about pictures of people’s faces. When I look at pictures of faces I want to see their face in all the gruesome detail. In real life you can’t really see someone well until you see them up close. Why then would you use a telephoto lens to shoot a portrait?
Now for the technical jargon. A telephoto lens tends to flatten the features of a face because the distance from the ears to the eyes to the nose is smaller relative to the distance between the objective lens and the subject. This is desirable in portraiture because people usually think they look best from a distance. All people also tend to think they have a big nose.
I prefer photos that make you feel like you’re right up in your subject’s grill; therefore, rule number one for portrait photography is get yourself a short, fast lens and get in your subject’s face.
Something magical happens when you begin to interact with your subjects up close: you start to see the small mannerisms and uniqueness in their expressions and movements. Only by getting right up close have I been able to satisfactorily capture the expressions that make every face unique. There is another benefit to shooting up close: short and fast lenses, the kind that give you very shallow depth of field, are way cheaper than long and fast lenses and nothing draws your attention to a beautiful eyelash or a sparkling iris like a blurred-out background.
My second tip is get our and do something with your subject! Forget your studio. Sure you can pose people and get the perfect shot but nothing is quite as honest or as beautiful as a photo of a real moment between real people with real memories and stories to go along with it. Take a picture with a soundtrack!
These are two of my all time favourites because they commemorate a night of utter insanity. Without getting right in his face it would have been impossible to steal some of the madness of that night for my roll of film. The result is sparkling character and insanity rendered in two dimensions.
That’s all there is to it. Get a short fast lens, like a 50mm f1.8 or a 28mm f2.8 and stick it right in someone’s face. And make sure when you choose to get in their face you’re partaking in some sort of shenanigans or a heartfelt conversation. You may not find these tips in a photography book but I guarantee what you come out with will be visceral, honest renditions of a person with whom you share something real, and most importantly, your pictures will capture all that can be captured of a person’s spirit. That is the point of portraiture after all isn’t it?
Click here for part two where I will share my tips for whole body portraits, or capturing people in their environments.
My question to you: what’s your favourite way to capture what’s unique about a person on film? What makes a portrait special for you?